2015 Year-End Movie Review: David Medsker

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I am not a difficult person to please when it comes to movies. There is a big joke among the film critics in town that we are either film critics or movie reviewers, meaning that film critics dissect everything at a subatomic level, while movie reviewers talk about whether or not they liked the film. I am squarely in the latter category.

This year, however, something was off. There are films getting a ton of film group buzz that I just didn’t get, and even worse, I found myself enjoying what was widely considered to be the worst movie of the year, but more on that later. First up, the movies I liked.

Movies I Liked

1. “SPOTLIGHT”

Nothing comes even close to this one. This expertly-paced account of the Boston Globe’s expose on the Catholic Church’s systematic covering up of abusive priests is top-notch storytelling, one in which the city of Boston becomes not just the backdrop, but the main character.

2. “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE”

Ten bucks says Daniel Craig likes this film more than any of the Bond films he’s done, and with good reason. “Kingsman” is the most entertaining spy movie I’ve ever seen, and it earned this spot on my list for the church scene alone.

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3. “THE REVENANT”

The bear attack. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it. Alejandro Inarritu’s film about life in the Pacific Northwest in the 1820s is every bit as hostile and unforgiving as the landscape in which it is based. There is a scene, though, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character gets his hands on some raw meat (the first he has seen in a while), and he scarfs it down, even though there is a fire burning nearby. Dude, put it on a stick and cook that thing!

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Movie Review: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Starring
Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis
Director
J.J. Abrams

Resurrect a beloved name and attempt to relaunch a franchise? No sweat. Extreme pressure was riding on co-writer/director J.J. Abrams’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Expectations are more than high for the film, and while this sequel doesn’t quite recapture the glory of the old days, if often comes very close.

“The Force Awakens” is both a retread and a callback to “A New Hope.” Rey (Daisey Ridley) follows in the footsteps of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill): she’s an orphaned scavenger on a desert planet, Jakku, and she’s torn between her home and exploring the galaxy. Her life changes when she meets the adorable BB-8, a droid hiding a secret for the best damn Resistance pilot in the sky, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). A conflicted Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) crosses paths with both Poe and Rey, but most of “The Force Awakens” is about those two, as well as the pair of recognizable faces they team up with along the way: Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).

Even before Han and Chewie appear – and what a wonderful reveal it is – “The Force Awakens” is undeniably a “Star Wars” movie. The film recaptures the spirit of the original trilogy, as it should. The tangible environments, practical creatures and stakes are “Star Wars” through and through, but more than that, it’s the sense of joy, pain and adventure that Abrams and his co-writers, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, bring to this sequel that makes it “Star Wars.” This series has always been about friendship and family, and “The Force Awakens” doesn’t forget that, even if some of the relationships aren’t very well defined.

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Movie Review: “Victor Frankenstein”

Starring
James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott
Director
Paul McGuigan

Sometimes a bad movie reminds you of how great certain actors are, and that’s definitely the case with “Victor Frankenstein.” For the most part, director Paul McGuigan’s reimagining is just that – a bad movie – but it’s one that’s lucky enough to have James McAvoy in the lead role. McAvoy is a great actor, which he proves here by giving his all as the titular character, in spite of the quality of the end result.

Written by Max Landis (“Chronicle,” “American Ultra”) – although it went through a series of rewrites, as is usually the case on a project of this scale – the film tracks the early relationship between Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and hunchback/surgeon Igor Strausman (Daniel Radcliffe). The hunchback’s real name isn’t Igor; he’s simply taken the identity of Frankenstein’s absentee roommate. After freeing the young man from the circus and curing him of his back problem, Frankenstein offers the lost soul a chance at greatness: to be his partner and create life. Of course, as we’ve learned from past Frankenstein adaptations, that doesn’t work out so well.

“Victor Frankenstein” is a well-intentioned misfire. The film is more about a friendship than monsters running amuck, and McAvoy brings a sense of sadness and manic energy in almost every scene he’s in. The character’s arc and McAvoy’s performance are well rounded. At the end of the film, his sad past and obsessive drive is palpable. It’s a very, very good performance, but even if it was the best performance of the year, it couldn’t salvage the rest of the film.

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Movie Review: “Secret in Their Eyes”

Starring
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Alfred Molina, Michael Kelly
Director
Billy Ray

“Secret in Their Eyes” had its work cut out for it. The source material is a (fantastic) 2009 Argentinean film which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film the following year. It’s an intense, well-plotted crime thriller with an unrequited love story at its center. I described it at the time as “The Remains of the Day” set in a 1970s police station. Writer and director Billy Ray (“The Hunger Games,” “Captain Phillips”) knew that timeline wasn’t going to fly with a 2015 American adaptation, and while he loses a bit of the “Remains” aspect of the original story as a result, the time in which he places the flashback, post-9/11 Los Angeles, is a genius move. Paranoia is at an all-time high, and all of law enforcement was under tremendous pressure to find someone they can turn, and once they did, they protected that asset at all costs. You can see where that kind of environment would cause good cops to make bad decisions, and bad cops to make worse ones.

Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) works security for the New York Mets, but he spends his nights scanning databases for the one that got away 13 years ago, when he was working for the Counter Terrorist Unit in Los Angeles in 2002. He’s watching a local mosque, and when he receives word that a body is found in a nearby dumpster, he is shocked to discover that it is the daughter of his colleague Jessica (Julia Roberts). Ray’s only suspect in the case was a boy who regularly visited the mosque, but because of the boy’s value (he was a mole, and was about to give CTU an entire sleeper cell), he was considered untouchable.

Present-day Ray asks Claire (Nicole Kidman), for whom he’s been carrying a torch since the moment he met her and is now the city’s district attorney, to reopen the case so they can investigate a man recently out on parole, whom Ray firmly believes is Jess’ daughter’s killer. At this point, even Jessica is telling Ray and Claire to walk away, but Ray is motivated by this case for a reason that not even Jessica knows.

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Live Out Loud Without Worrying About Your Tech

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Every day, smartphones form hundreds of functions, making our lives more fun, more convenient, and more connected than ever before. Unfortunately, those impressive capabilities, smartphones, tablets, and other pieces of tech come with advanced and complicated internal workings that can be extremely fragile.

For most of us, a piece of tech such as a smartphone or tablet isn’t something we can simply afford to replace every couple of weeks, and the threat of damage causes us to constantly worry that our equipment may end up getting ruined with the slightest bump or graze.

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